Saturday, 22 June 2013

Unsolicited Advice

In my extreme youth I was courted by a fellow in my neighbourhood who had a summer job at the same amusement park where I had one.  He was not an NCB, and he bragged that he had once dropped LSD. Being ill-disposed towards recreational use of hallucinogens, I decided that I did not want this guy to be my boyfriend.

His courtship was a tad strange, anyway. He would come to see me at my work station and walk me home from the bus stop--there was a lot of lurking and walking going on there. But the most memorable thing he ever said, which I enjoyed repeating to my friends in an imitation of his nasal drawl, was "If you did something about your hair--and your clothes--you could really be quite attractive."

Dear me, that still makes me laugh. Now I laugh harder, though, because I have learned one of the secrets of life and it is that you do not have to look conventionally beautiful to be attractive. You can be attractive "in a strange way" as a near-stranger said of me behind my back to my pal Lily. And this is a matter of personality and probably some derring-do in the fashion-and-make-up department.

Ladies with powerful personalities sometimes focus the power of those personalities on women we like, particularly younger women, and give you a lot of hearty advice. And having grown up in societies which now devalue older women and our wisdom, experience, etc, younger you very often reject this advice and even resent it. And no wonder. It is not pleasant when someone remarks upon your Single state and says, between the lines, you're Single because you're not attractive enough to men. Oh, thanks. Thanks very much, bossy older lady.

However sometimes--not always, maybe not even often, but sometimes--the bossy older lady may know what she's talking about. That is worth taking into consideration. It is also worth taking into the consideration the motives of this bossy older lady.  I once met a charming if bossy older lady who told me how beautiful I was and how I really ought to "get my colours done." She would do it herself, and here was her card. So she did my colours, gave me a make-over, sold me a ton of make-up and---eventually tried to sign me up to her pyramid scheme.

But another older lady, a very sweet older lady, once told me that my problem with men was that I talked too much. It practically killed her to say it; in fact, she blurted it out just before I went on a date. And although my feelings were hurt, I absolutely knew that this lady liked me very much and just wanted me to find a nice man and get married and have babies before it was too late for babies. It was, however, some years before I realized that she had been right. I talked too much--not as a woman in a world run by men who prefer to do all the talking, but as a person. And if I didn't watch it, I would still talk too much. (Look at how much I blog.)

Other older people have told me that I sometimes frighten people, and I am always taken so aback by this, that I always always always forget to ask that so-important question, "Why?"

And "Why?" is a question you might want to have near to hand when bossy older ladies give you advice about men. It should be a sympathetic, curious "why?", your tone indicating that you really want to know. An older woman of experience is giving you advice for free--make the most charitable assumption that she is not insulting you, and that this is not one more incident of oppression in your unlucky life, but that she might be on to something. And if you ask her "Why?", you will be better able to judge if she is or if she just enjoys the sound of her own voice.

Older Bossy Lady: You have such pretty eyes. You should use make-up to make them more visible.

You: Why?

Older Bossy Lady: Because eyes are the first part of the human face other humans look at. Also, men seem to find large eyes more attractive. There are two theories about this: one is that large eyes are a sign of estrogen production and the other is that large eyes are a neotenous feature.

You:  A neo-what?

Older Bossy Lady: It's a feature that makes you look younger than you really are. It's linked to our love for babies, even baby animals.

You: Oh, er...

Older Bossy Lady: Rust-orange eyeshadow is fantastic for blue eyes. It makes them really pop!

At heart I am the bossiest older lady under the Scottish sky, but I have learned through much trial and error that bossiness is not an attractive trait. Therefore, I try very, very hard never to give people advice in real life until they come to me and ask. And meanwhile I have my blog. Really, blogging is such a blessing. And if I could figure out how to do it without going back to school, I would be happy to take money from such girls and boys who ask my advice. Maybe I could get a gypsy caravan and a sign: "Madame Seraphic. Your Love Life Assessed.  £40/hr."

The operative assumption of older bossy ladies is that you don't like being Single and very much want a man. If you do like being Single and do not very much want a man, then feel free to tell bossy older ladies so. They might be a bit shocked and, heaven help us, feel judged because they are married and very much wanted a man at your age, so you might preface this with "I have so much respect for married ladies, especially mothers, as motherhood is really the Most Important Vocation, but for myself I enjoy the tranquility of the single state."

But if you are among the man-wanting majority you have at least two options. You can say, "I know you mean well, but this is very hard for me, and I'd rather not discuss it" and burst into older-lady shaming tears. Or you can lean forward and say, "Tell me what you know. May I take notes?" If option 2, ask "Why?" a lot.


Nzie (theRosyGardener) said...

Seriously, yes. This is very good advice, and sometimes I wish friends would be more forthcoming. I'll admit I don't always take comments in good grace right at the start (much better than I used to be - my mom told me I didn't accept criticism well, the truth of which became obvious in how I took to that!), but I try to listen.


Anonymous said...

It's very important to consider the status of Bossy Lady though. Sometimes women who make mistakes and have no introspection or sense of Truth or reality kind of want or encourage you to make that mistake too. Whether it's to salve any niggling guilt of their own or because of foolishness I don't know. I've come across it though and we women can be very susceptible to peer pressure.

There's no shame in making mistakes as long as you/she acknowledges it. If her life is a bit messy and she's not trying to teach you a lesson she wishes someone taught her then smile, say thank you and walk on.

I've been on the receiving end of enough advice from Bossy Ladies wanting me to repeat their mistakes that I don't necessarily associate age with wisdom anymore, which is a great pity.


Seraphic said...

Well said! I was thinking more of the kind of Bossy Older Ladies who say "Why don't you wear more pink, dear?" than the ones who recommend outright sin and folly. (I think I have been lucky in my Bossy Older Ladies!)

Yes, don't take advice from the bitter, twisted and mean!